Project management certifications have claimed a place in every top IT certification list for years. That's because project managers are important to IT operations of all kinds. Whether you're interested in becoming an IT project manager or want to add project management to the list of your soft skills, these five leading certifications will help you complement your technical skills, and in turn increase your value.
If there's one set of soft skills that has remained high on the IT radar for the past decade or so, to the point where they've become almost as sought-after and every bit as valuable as other top-level credentials, that has to be project management.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) not only stands behind the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, it works with academia and training companies to ensure proper coverage and currency in the various curricula that exist to support this and other PMI credentials. Boasting more than 650,000 professionals in almost every country in the world, PMI's PMP credential remains one of the most prestigious project management credentials available. (Note: The PMP's precursor, the CAPM cert, is covered in the next section.)
That's why you can obtain college- and university-based PMP training from so many institutions. It's also why you may sometimes find PMP coverage integrated into certain degree programs (often at the master's degree level).
The PMP credential is coveted by employers seeking the most highly skilled project management professionals. Developed by project managers, the PMP cert is the highest level offered in PMI certifications. The PMI certification is designed to ensure that credential holders possess the skills and qualifications necessary to successfully manage all phases of a project, including initiating, planning, scheduling, controlling and monitoring and closing out the project.
PMP certified projects managers are also well versed and skilled in managing all aspects of the triple constraints — time, cost and scope. Employers depend on the skills of PMP professionals to manage budgets, track costs, manage scope creep, and identify how changes to the triple constraints may introduce risk into the project and minimize such risk to protect the project investment.
The standards for PMP certification are rigorous. In addition to passing a comprehensive and exhaustive exam, credential holders must first demonstrate and certify that they possess the skills and education necessary to succeed in the project management field. Credential seekers should be prepared to provide documentation regarding items such as education, projects worked on and hours spent in each of the five project management stages — initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing out the project.
The same organization that stands behind the PMP also backs the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification. In fact, the CAPM is properly considered a stepping-stone credential for those who wish to attain PMP status by stages, rather than in a single giant bound.
That's why the Project Management Institute describes the CAPM as a "valuable entry-level certification for project practitioners" that is "designed for those with little or no project experience."
In fact, the PMP requires three to five years of documented on-the-job project management experience, depending on the educational background of each applicant. On the other hand, the CAPM requires only a high school diploma and either 1,500 hours of documented on-the-job experience (about nine months of full-time work) or 23 hours of project management classroom training prior to taking the exam.
Nor does the CAPM require continuing education (which the PMI calls PDUs, short for professional development units) as does the PMP (60 PDUs every three years) to maintain this credential. To recertify, CAPM holders must re-take the exam once every five years.
The CAPM certification is one of a number of entry-level project management certifications (including the CompTIA Project+, which is also featured in our top five) that IT professionals interested in project management might choose to pursue. Remember, though, that it is a stepping-stone to the PMP.
Unless you work in a large organization where a project management team is in place that includes junior- as well as more senior-level project management positions, the CAPM by itself is unlikely to provide a ticket to a project management job. However, the CAPM is ideal for IT professionals for whom project management is a part-time job role or who want to grow into full-time project management.
As companies seek to deliver more for less, many are adopting agile methodologies as a way to streamline processes, build quality into products and ensure that the final build meets customer requirements. As the use of agile methodologies has become more pervasive and popular, it's not surprising that we're seeing an increased demand for IT practitioners uniquely qualified to manage projects in agile environments.
While there are different Scrum master certifications available, our pick is the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) from Scrum Alliance. This nonprofit organization encourages the adoption of Scrum and Agile practices, promotes user groups and learning events, and provides resources for professional development. The organization boasts more than 450,000 certified practitioners worldwide.
Scrum Alliance provides a support system for Scrum practitioners, including Scrum Gatherings, user groups, virtual communicates, coaching, online training and much more. In addition to community and advocacy activities, Scrum Alliance offers numerous Scrum-related certifications, including three entry- level credentials: the Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), Certified Scrum Developer (CSD) and the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM). At the next certification tier you'll find the Certified Scrum Professional (CSP), followed by the more advanced Certified Scrum Coach (CSC) and Certified Scrum Trainer (CST). The Scrum Alliance also offers the Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) program, a credential based on a combination of education and validated practice.
For project managers getting started as Scrum practitioners, the CSM is an excellent entry-level credential. Not only will candidates demonstrate an understanding of Scrum principles and values, but they'll gain knowledge about how to implement and apply Scrum in practice. The Scrum Alliance provides CSMs with multiple resources as well as checklists and information about the "servant leader" role of the Scrum master.
CompTIA Project+ is another entry-level project management credential, roughly on par with PMI's CAPM. (Project+ fills more or less the same niche that the CAPM does.) Instead of emerging from a leading industry trade organization whose sole focus is project management and related activities, Project+ comes from a computing-industry-spanning organization that puts its credentials together based on input from IT industry players, representatives from government, academia, research institutions, subject matter experts and other interested parties who must pay to participate in credential design (training companies, publishers and so forth).
The biggest differences (and each of the certifications have their pros and cons) between the CAPM and the Project+ is the experience and background requirement. The CAPM cert requires a high school diploma plus either 1,500 hours of on-the-job project management experience or 23 hours of classroom training in project management. The Project+ certification, on the other hand, makes no such stipulations. While this makes the Project+ easier to obtain, it's possible to argue that it's thus less valuable or meaningful.
That said, Project+ functions as a workable stepping stone to the PMP, just as the CAPM does. Our gut feel is that either certification functions about the same on the way to the PMP, with the CAPM earning a slight edge thanks to its more stringent requirements. A quick check of job sites confirms that employers mention CAPM by name more often than Project+. While CAPM may be more popular than Project+, there are still some many enterprise-level corporations (Fuji Xerox, Accenture, Canon, Ernst Young and General Dynamics, for example) that hire Project+ holders.
A single exam is required to earn the credential. CompTIA is currently testing a new exam for the Project+ cert so it's likely we'll see a new version roll out sometime in 2017. The certification is good for life so no renewal is required.
If you plan on working as a project manager in the international arena, a PRINCE2 project management qualification is a must-have for your certification portfolio. PRINCE (which stands for PRojects IN Controlled Environments) is most well-known overseas and widely used in the United Kingdom, particularly with government entities.
A process-based methodology, PRINCE2 processes focus on three main processes – directing, managing and delivering projects – which span the Pre-project, Initiation, Subsequent Delivery Stages, and Final Delivery phases.
PRINCE2 offers two primary qualifications: the PRINCE2 Foundation and the PRINCE2 Practitioner. The Foundation qualification is an entry-level project management credential focused on understanding basic project management terminology and methodology. The Practitioner qualification targets advanced practitioners who possess the Foundation qualification or another accepted project management certification. The Practitioner qualification must be renewed within five years by retaking the exam.